I had no idea of the mistake I made when I refused the Section 20 Care Order that the Local Authority offered me. This was seemingly the only way to achieve respite, as a lone adoptive parent. My child’s trauma related disabilities are still not recognised by those with a duty of care, despite him being on DLA/PIP for a decade and him receiving an award from CICA for a permanent mental health condition resulting from his early life abuse. In refusing the Order, I was trying to prevent my adopted child from having to re enter care to give me a break – it was just too drastic as a way to access respite, and it could destabilise him, undermining his sense of permanence. I hope this legislation, which does not work for modern adoption (it was designed to better scrutinise foster care in the 1980s), can be reviewed after nearly 30 years. It is leading to too many adopted children needing to re enter care, when a break is needed from the intensity of family life, when there is a legacy of trauma, abuse and neglect. Single parents like me are especially vulnerable when our children’s needs, and ours as carers, are not appreciated. The problems we deal with go well beyond the bounds of ‘normal’ parenting and we may have to give up work to care for our children – as I did – when my son started to refuse school. Our children should not need to re enter care – and support should be offered without this potentially de-stabilising measure being needed – when there is no differentiation between an adopted child re entering care, and a child entering care for reasons of abuse and neglect. To add insult to injury we can find we are labelled a ‘disruption’ when we asked for help. This legislation is also impacting on children with hidden disabilities like autism – and single mothers especially, it seems, are finding their children taken away by the State, when they ask for help. Young lives are being ruined – because there is so little work done to reunify families – basically nothing is done at all if the parents are not the ‘risk’ or ‘problem’ – and as our case illustrates, parents, like me, are being made to look as if we are the ‘problem’ – so that ‘support’ can be offered by the State. When we reject the ‘support’, because it is not support at all when our needs are not understood or acknowledged, we find our character is portrayed as ‘difficult’, ‘obstructive’ or ‘disagreeable’ – and our mental health can be called into question, with total impunity, by advocates, acting under instruction of senior managers in local authorities who mislead the police to get us into court – when we refuse Section 20. If we accept it the outcome may be the same in terms of our being blamed and treated as part of the problem – but with our child now living elsewhere and being told goodness knows what about us. Children’s services are not known for praising adoptive parents!

Legislation must be brought in to protect families like ours, and our vulnerable children, from organisations seeking to cover negligence and failings – and able to misappropriate the Family Courts to do just this because of subterfuge, closed ranks with partnership organisations, and inequities in terms of accessing legal help and support. Our children’s rights are being violated and nothing is being done about this. It is not good enough. We deserve better when we make a lifelong commitment to raise a child from the care system.

We were a family in crisis. I did not know what to do and turned to the police for help. Only 7 days before refusing the Section 20 Order, I had called them to the house fearing that my son would try to take his life again – the boundaries and consequences approach that I was using (under the guidance of CAMHS), wasn’t working – and I had noticed ligature marks on my son’s neck. When I said I was concerned about this happening again and called the police,  they rushed to the house in minutes, and spoke to my son in his bedroom. But when they brought him downstairs where I was anxiously waiting – they had not noticed the ligature marks, and I pointed them out to the police officers.

My son was refusing school. His refusal was later found out to be anxiety related, and much later it was suggested by a jointly instructed court expert, it could have been related to a traumatising removal from his birth family – as he was taken from school – and had now formed a strong attachment with me. Anyway his school was not helping me/us at this juncture because, they said, he was fine when he got there. The implication was it was poor parenting on my part, or something that was happening at home that caused him to ‘misbehave’ – and indeed this was what the Social Worker seemed to think was the cause.

A Core Needs Assessment had been done – but it was inaccurate and did not reflect our needs. My son’s diagnosed medical conditions (ADHD, Attachment Disorder), were not even mentioned. This assessment was what the Social Worker and Local Authority were basing their views and support provision on. I called the Adoption UK helpline for support but unbeknown to me, their reporting of an incident long ago reported by me to the police, which I informed them had already been reported, resulted not in positive action – but a covert police strategy meeting called after ‘Concerns were raised by Adoption UK’. I had no idea about any of this until my child was returned to care.

I was unable to make any progress with social care, and involving Adoption UK would have cost me money – I was reliant on State benefits because of my son’s care needs – or involved an application to the Local Authority for funding. Both solutions seemed to take time to set up when we needed swift positive action and I felt let down by demands for money from a charity at such a critical time. It seemed there really was nothing I could do other than make a formal complaint. The complaint was investigated by senior managers in the authority I complained about. It was not upheld – except in regards to not informing me the reasons why I should not have a Carers Assessment, which had been asked for almost a year before we finally met, with this request supported by my GP. I informed them, when we met, 5 months after the complaint was put in, when it was finally investigated, that we were now in desperate need and my son had tried to ligature himself. Notes were made about this and the most senior manager said that this was indeed a cause for concern. No heed was paid by these managers to a recently done CAMHS risk assessment, done by a CAMHS Social Worker, which suggested I was most at risk, and instead of an assessment that considered my son’s mental health and our therapeutic and support needs (his therapist of two years had made specific recommendations about these that were all ignored), another Social Worker assessment was put forwards as a solution.  I could not see how this would help and put the complaint in the hands of the Local Government Ombudsman. Two weeks later, when I refused the Section 20 Order, the senior managers put the case in the hands of the court, with an Emergency Protection Order being issued that required me to be in court the next morning at 9.30 am. But what I did not know, because I did not read the police records until after proceedings had been concluded (imagining my solicitor would do this), was that senior managers had seemingly misled the police, and the police did not check facts before issuing the EPO. These managers, who make decisions about our most vulnerable children, informed the police – via a social worker that had not been involved for 5 months – that my son’s school had observed the ligature marks – when this was quite impossible since my son did not attend school. I had reported the marks to them – by way of help seeking, and they repaid me by suggesting to the police, and a court of law, that I was mentally abusing my child. The information provided to the police can only have come from senior management. Apart from the police and the managers, and CAMHS, no one else knew of the ligature marks.

With the court proceedings sprung on me I could not access legal assistance from someone that knew the history of the case. I was allocated a barrister who told me to ‘play the game’. What game? This was an adopted child being removed from his home, family and community so that my parenting capacity, previously assessed most rigorously, could be called into question in a court of law. The Judge, quite rightly said that if my son did not get home quickly he would be in big trouble. But the Local Authority took no notice and months of harrowing persecution ensued. First of all my mental health was called into question. I have no history of mental illness but the Local Authority’s advocate, acting under instruction, was able to query whether I had a personality disorder – and instructions were submitted to the court appointed expert appointed to assess my psychological health. The instructions were amended, and new ones were agreed, which made me sound like a harridan that no one could get on with, but the expert accidentally picked up the original ones, which discredited my character and diagnosed imaginary mental health problems – and he assessed accordingly, refusing to believe me when I explained he was in error. It made little difference what I said in court or to the court – I was not believed – because I was a parent. Factually inaccurate harmful assessments, based on misleading information, done under conditions of strain and duress, by professionals that treated me as a failed care option, and who had little or no adoption expertise, carried more weight than anything I said.

All the while in care my son was in a state of severe distress, and he began to cut himself the same week that care proceedings began. He banged holes in the foster carers wall – which she likened to an adult ‘doodling’ in the statement she made to the court, which made me sound negligent – and suggested my son had arrived in her care dirty and wearing dirty clothes. Towards the end of the five month proceedings, just before the Section 31 Care Order was made, I learned my son tried to take his own life in foster care. My child explained that he had been accused of stealing money (I had given him money to buy a game from another child in the placement), by the carer, and had tried to ligature himself, feeling so lonely and frightened. But in a LAC review I had to attend the next day after learning of the suicide attempt second hand, through CAMHS, the foster care suggested my child had tried to strangle himself because he was apprehensive about being returned to my care. This was a much longed for reunification after a five month separation, which had been carefully planned with children’s services. The foster carer was given the benefit of the doubt by the Independent Reviewing Officer, with her suggestion being given equal weight to my son’s testimony, and that of the CAMHS worker with whom my son spoke.

My son enjoyed school and wanted to go and by the time of the final hearing of the initial proceedings it was evident that the school refusal, (which meant the threshold of ‘parental control’ was a major problem for me), was not to do with my parenting. A male CAMHS worker physically manhandled my son in his bed to ‘make him get up’. This approach, which seemed to trigger his original trauma, left my son in a state of dissociative collapse. It had been taken, with great regret on my part, but with my consent, so that there would be tangible evidence that it was not because I was not being ‘forceful’ enough as a parent. It was not shared with the court – because I could not attend the hearing. I could not leave my son at home alone, and the Local Authority refused to provide childcare – so I could attend court.

A Care Order was already made and my son, who refused foster care ever again after the first care proceedings, was living in a children’s home costing £4k per week by the time the Local Government Ombudsman completed the investigation, six weeks after the care proceedings were concluded. The complaint was upheld in respect of a risk assessment not being considered. By this time no one cared. I struggled to get the manager to attend mediation with me – and eventually, after my child’s absolute right to medication was violated with his instruction, mediation was stopped by the mediator – it was not considered suitable.

Getting my adopted child back home, which is what he wished for, after he was removed by the Local Authority, was the most difficult achievement of my life. It took 3.5 years to correct misunderstandings. What made it almost impossible was the relentless discrediting of my character as being ‘difficult’. Professionals didn’t listen  – I am a trained Samaritan but nothing I said about my son’s depression and suicidal despair was heard. Unless the information came from a professional no action was taken. I learned about his suicide attempts days or weeks after they happened, second hand. These attempts were invariably attributed to my child’s abusive past when assessments were done, where they were described as ‘self harm’. The approach taken was never questioned and for years no dialogue was achievable about reunification – until it happened, suddenly, when the Section 31 Care order was discharged.

LAC reviews and meetings with the authority were completely traumatising for me – and my child could not attend any of them. He had to be put on suicide watch after one of them because the ‘care’ plan was so against his wishes. One meeting with senior managers was so awful. I broke down when I was given no alternative but court. I asked to use the toilet facilities to regain my composure, but this request was denied, lest the  meeting would end. I had given up my work and a career I loved to raise a child from the UK care system – and made a lifelong commitment – yet these managers, on vast salaries, would not talk about how the reunification my child longed for could be achieved with me, and wouldn’t give me two minutes to use the lavatory

This heartless authority would even have seen my son’s CICA award compromised and gave instructions to stop the final court expert report’s being disclosed – including to those assessing for the CICA award. The final court assessment, which saw my son come home, had recommended immediate reunification and awards for bravery. Apart from reunification its recommendations were not followed through. There was no support offered after a 3.5 year separation with the reunification not planned with us – because we could achieve no dialogue about it. The Adoption Support Fund was used by the Local Authority to access funding for us – but this took 4 months because of an assessment being conducted without our knowledge or consent, which the fund administrators accepted in preference to the court expert’s report

As a parent, I could not get the Family Court to consider whether there had been deliberate misconduct on the part of senior managers to cover up negligence and failings.

Voluntary agencies were not able or willing to help and my son’s Rights of a Child have been violated with total impunity.

It should not be a lone adopter, with no access to legal support, facing shut doors and closing of ranks, who has to fight for justice for her child. There seems to be nowhere to turn and in desperation, so as to be able to trust again, I have put this matter in the hands of the police. I have done this because I want adopters and parents who struggle to achieve support and understanding of their needs, to feel safe to seek help.